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North Carolina: Tell State Lawmakers Not to Outlaw Road Diets — Today

11:25 AM EDT on August 14, 2015

Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT
Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT
Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

The language of a bill being hashed out right now in Raleigh could determine whether North Carolina cities have the freedom to redesign streets to improve safety and promote a healthier range of transportation options.

A provision of House Bill 44 -- specifically Section 7 -- would prohibit reducing the width of state-managed roads to add bike lanes if they:

    • A. Carry more than 20,000 vehicles a day, or
    • B. If projections show the road diet would reduce the Level of Service -- an engineering measure of vehicle congestion -- below a certain level (D) within 20 years.

According to local advocates the language is the result of a single lawmaker who is unhappy about a road diet in his jurisdiction. That lawmaker was responsible for adding the language banning road diets on state controlled roads into the wide-ranging bill, which includes items such as the regulation of signs, beekeepers, and beaches.

HB 44 passed in both the House and the Senate, but the language of each bill was different enough that additional work is needed before it can proceed. State senators and representatives met in conference committee yesterday where advocates were hopeful a compromise would be hashed out that would eliminate or alter the road diet provision. According to Lisa Riegel of BikeWalk NC, the final decision may come today. That group is urging supporters to contact their elected representatives and urge them to remove Section 7.

"It is not too late," said Riegel. "The conferees are close, but the bill is not done. We need to urge all that would like to see this provision removed to contact the Senate and House conferees today."

Don Kostelec, an Asheville-based planner, says some of the road diets the state's cities are most proud of -- like Raleigh's Hillsborough Street and Asheville's College Street -- would have been prohibited as the bill is currently written. The Hillsborough Street project [pictured above] is used as an example of a great complete streets project by both the North Carolina DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that the law would derail a road diet planned for a one-mile retail strip of U.S. 15-501 Business in Durham. Business owners along the strip are pushing for the changes, which will reduce the road from five lanes and add bike lanes and parking.

"This provision throws up a barrier against our state's Complete Streets policy -- which aims to provide transportation for all users," said Riegel. "Why do we want to over-regulate and limit this process?"

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